Featured in the July 30, 2018 morning edition of the Nikkei Newspaper!
Who`s the father? Prenatal paternity testing from 8-10 weeks of pregnancy. Ethics and women`s rights.
Nikkei Newspaper July 30, 2018 morning edition
A DNA testing service that can be done early in the pregnancy has been gaining popularity. The test uses a blood sample from the pregnant mother to determine who the father of the unborn baby is. The service has received criticism from some that say it promotes abortion, as the test can be done without the knowledge of the alleged father. However, the opposite opinion that the test provides important information that encourages women to continue the pregnancy is also prevalent. While the development in biotechnology has created innovative solutions, it has also raised concerns.
It is early July, at the 2nd floor of an office building along a busy road in Tokyo. A woman hurriedly hands a brown manila envelope to the staff of a DNA testing company. Inside are tubes containing blood samples and cotton swabs containing DNA of the alleged father. She says she is having a non-invasive prenatal paternity test done.
“If I send the samples by post time is wasted.“ she says. She came as soon as she head that the results could be obtained in as quick as 5 days.
A prenatal paternity test is a test that is done during pregnancy that determines the paternity of the unborn baby. Recently, a non-invasive method that uses a blood sample from the mother has been developed, and the numbers of people ordering the test have been increasing. Test applicants range from worried women who have had relations with multiple partners, to men who suspect their pregnant partner of cheating.
Approximately 10% of the DNA of the fetus is flowing in the mother`s blood, and its sequence is analyzed and checked against the DNA sample of the alleged father. It is possible to have the test done from around the 8th to 10th week of pregnancy. Results can be obtained within a few days to 2 weeks, well before the 22 week deadline for a legal abortion. The price for the test ranges from 150,000 ~ 200,000 yen. Although the total number of companies providing this service is unknown, a quick internet search can turn up about 10 companies.
ＳseeDNA Forensic Lab Inc. (in Adachi-ku, Tokyo) processes a large number of cases and is well-known in the industry. The Representative Director Kim Kibom said that they receive around 70 cases of non-invasive prenatal paternity tests every month, and that the number is on the rise. Their company regularly receives emails expressing thanks, with messages like “I am so relieved. I can deliver my baby with no worries.“
The previous method for prenatal paternity testing required that an OBGYN collect amniotic fluid by piercing the uterus with a needle. In 2006 the Obstetrics and Gynecologists’ Association in Japan advised that amniotic fluid could not be taken unless there was a request from court for the procedure. This led to a decline in its use, and currently it has very limited implementation.
However, biotechnology continues to advance, and 11 years later a method of testing using a maternal blood sample was developed in the United States. 2 or 3 years down the road and companies offering the service in Japan began to attract attention. As blood samples can be collected easily at a hospital for around 3000 yen, the procedure quickly gained popularity.
It is also possibly to have the test done without the man`s knowledge. The standard sample type for the alleged father is a cheek swab, taken using a cotton swab rubbed on the inside of the cheek. However, it is also possible to test a used paper cup or toothbrush, strands of hair or other sample types. Every company states that “Consent from the alleged father is required,“ however the fact is that signatures are not strictly confirmed.
It is the opinion of some that this service can promote getting an abortion.
Professor Fumio Takada of Kitasato University, who is familiar with genetic testing, points out that there may be many cases where testing led to abortion. “There are no laws to regulate, and there is rampant usage of the tests. Businesses promote a neglect of life and taking the easy way out,” he complains.
There is no regulation on a parent-child relationship test, or any genetic testing conducted for purposes other than medical purposes. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has formulated guidelines “Compliance items of genetic testing business operators” in 13 years, seeking thorough quality control and consent of both men and women who are examiners, but they are not enforceable
Meanwhile, there are voices that women need the test. Sonomi Genbu, a gynecologist familiar with sexual problems, says, “There are plenty of mothers and children that can be saved.” Pregnancy places a heavy burden on the body of a woman. It is a woman ‘s right to decide to continue a pregnancy. A DNA test can provide vital facts that the woman needs to know. While in Japan there are 170,000 abortions a year, there are many cases where the decision was the woman`s alone, and the abortion was done without the consent from the alleged father.
Standard post-birth relationship tests using DNA are now easy to do, and cost less than 20,000 yen. However, if problems are discovered after childbirth, the whole family can be affected. It is natural that there is a need for avoiding this possibility by finding out the truth before the child is born. Do you respect bioethics, or give priority to women’s rights? With advancement in technology society must confront new issues.